When I received PGA Championship Golf - 1999 Edition, my first thought was one undoubtedly shared by a lot of golf-sim fans: Why even bother with this game when I've got Jack Nicklaus 6 and Links LS 1999? But it only took a few rounds for me to realize just how wrong I was. It might not support as many courses as those two classics, but hole for hole it offers as much challenge and fun as you could hope for in a golf sim.
The eight courses featured in PGA Championship Golf 1999 provide plenty of variety for the desktop duffer, both visually and in the skills required to shoot a good round. Five of the courses are holdovers from Sierra's Golf Pro: Sahalee Country Club (site of the 1998 PGA Championship), Coeur D'Alene, Black Diamond Ranch, the Pete Dye Golf Club, and the Prince Course at Princeville Resort. The two additions are Pasatiempo (designed by Augusta creator Alester Mackenzie) and Royal Birkdale, where PGA Championship Golf endorsee Tom Lehman won at Royal Lythamand St. Annes in 1996.
And if seven world-class courses won't keep you busy for a while, you can try your hand at creating your own course with the game's course architect (which was used to create the eighth course in PGA Championship Golf, Jocassee Shoals). Of course, designing courses isn't everyone's bag (myself included), but a friendly "course wizard" will take even a beginner through the process - but be prepared to invest a few hours if you want to do it right. There is one small anomaly in the course architect: Although the manual says a hole can't cross over "other water," the truth is that a hole can't cross over water at all.
The scenery and terrain graphics in PGA Championship Golf are slightly less advanced than what you'll find in Jack Nicklaus 6 and Links LS 1999, but what little the game lacks in visual appeal it more than makes up for with an excellent interface, lifelike golfer animations, and very good ball physics. Sierra's modified the TrueSwing technology it introduced in Golf Pro so you can now stroke the ball by moving the mouse horizontally or vertically, making it much easier to hit long, straight drives and accurate fairway shots. I still prefer the traditional tri-click method when chipping and putting, but that's mainly because I just haven't practiced enough using TrueSwing. Simply put, this is the best implementation of this swing method I've tried, and it comes about as close to a "real" golf swing as you can experience on your PC.
Instead of using a shot marker (as in Links) or arcing arrow (as in Jack Nicklaus), you must rotate your golfer to aim for shot placement; to send a ball left or right of center, you can access a shot menu for fades and draws (you'll also find punch and flop shots here). At first I was irked that I didn't have access to a "magical" aiming device, but it didn't take long for me to master the system - and when I did, I realized how much more realistic this design is compared with what you see in most golf sims. Two slots for custom shots are also available, which you create by opening or closing the club face, changing the ball placement in relation to your stance, and rotating your swing plane. Personally, I like to keep it simple, but pros will really appreciate the inclusion of these options.
PGA Championship Golf's twelve play types might seem paltry compared with the 30-plus founds in Links LS 1999, but nearly all the old favorites are here: medal (stroke), match, best ball, skins, scramble, and Stableford, with variations on all except match and medal. Although Tom Lehman is the only PGA player found in the game, you can still compete in a tourney on any of the eight courses - but unfortunately there's no built-in support for a tour. You can get around that by simply playing all the courses and keeping track of everyone's finishes, but it'd be a lot more convenient if the game would do it for you.
Providing analysis during tourneys is Mark Lye from The Golf Channel and PGA Tour Radio's Grant Boone. It's nice hearing someone comment on the action and provide subtle tips on how you should play your next shot, but even though there are over 1400 speech clips in use here, the chances are good that you'll be hearing the same stuff (or the same stuff with very slight variations) after one or two rounds. Disconcerting too is the fact that these guys know almost immediately where the ball will wind up even when you're in doubt to the last second, and the way in which they never relate your score to your opponent's - you always "go down a stroke" when you bogey, even if your opponent went one over on the same hole.
When you've sharpened your skills against the virtual version of Tom Lehman (who thankfully doesn't nail every single shot the way the cyber-Palmer does in Links LS 1999), you can head to Sierra's WON.net for some competition against human opponents. Finding someone to play against in a casual game can be a dicey proposition at times - it seems that most of the players here are competing in the Sierra Golfing Association (SGA) - but that's sure to change as more golf fans find out just how good this game really is. Especially nice is the game's ReadyPlay feature, which lets you play through a hole without waiting for your opponents in order to speed things up (this feature can also be used in offline play against computer opponents). It's a little puzzling that the only option for Net play is on WON - playing via direct TCP/IP should be a snap to program - but things work smoothly enough over WON that I can certainly live with it, especially once I get good enough to enter a tournament and win real prizes like a trip to Hawaii or a new set of clubs.
The bottom line is this: Whether you're a seasoned pro or an out-and-out novice, PGA Championship Golf will provide you with countless hours of golfing enjoyment. Whatever its shortcomings, it manages to deliver a gripping experience that's always fun - and isn't that what it's all about?